Wild Critters Fill Our Yard

A gray squirrel just sprinted by my office window with a huge red apple in its mouth. I can’t remember a time when we had this many gray squirrels in our yard.

The other night as we pulled into our driveway, two racoons took off, running in front of us and headed to the woods.

Of course, every critter in the woods spends time in our yard in Mount Vernon. This spring Linda and I were enjoying breakfast while watching out the large kitchen window to enjoy her flower gardens when three snapping turtles waddled up from our stream to dig holes in her garden and deposit their eggs there.

One time I was fishing in the brook behind my house, and a huge snapping turtle chased me right out of the brook.

We never enjoy looking out and spotting skunks or porcupines on the lawn. The skunks have dug up a lot of holes, and the porcupines are downright dangerous. I had a dog once that never figured porcupines out. He got stuck with lots of quills five times.

We used to have a lot of beavers that would come out of the stream and cross the lawn to eat  our apples. The problem is, after they eat the apples, the stupid beavers chop down the tree. I had to put metal sleeves around all of our trees on the lawn. One night I drove into the yard to see a huge beaver with a very big red apple in its mouth, right in the driveway. I wish I could have gotten a photo of that.

We have lots of water critters in our stream beside the house including muskrats and otters. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of water snakes, some of which are huge. And my wife Linda hates snakes.

One year she created a beautiful flower garden right along the stream but a huge water snake spent a lot of time in that garden. I couldn’t catch it so eventually I shot it. When I held it up, it was taller than I am. Even after I killed it, Linda never set foot in that garden again.

This year we have a doe and fawn that wander around the yard almost every day. We have a lot of deer this year in Mount Vernon. A short time ago Linda picked up a couple hundred apples on the ground and put them in a pile in the field across the road. The next morning they were all gone.

Linda is avid gardener, and lots of critters, including deer, are very challenging.

We used to have quite a few moose in our neighborhood, but I haven’t seen one for many years. And of course we often hear the coyotes howling.

This year we were surprised and irritated to have three dozen turkeys hanging out in our yard and getting into Linda’s gardens. Very few hunters hunt turkeys which have become a great nuisance from many people.

I’m thinking it might have been a mistake to reintroduce them to Maine. Originally they thought they would only live along our southern coast below Portland, but I’ve seen them even up in the north woods.

Our cat used to kill red squirrels and chipmunks but these days he grabs them behind the neck, carries them around, and then drops them so he can chase them again. We really don’t like red squirrels – they often get into the house.

In my first book, A Life Lived Outdoors, I tell a lot of stories about all the critters that got into our house over the years. Under one end of the house, there was just a crawl space rather than a full basement and the animals could get in there. We had everything including skunks and racoons in the basement. In the book, I tell the story of the time I got sprayed right in the face by a skunk. Linda threw my clothes away!

Eventually we foamed the walls and that, thankfully, stopped those critters from getting in. But it is still not unusual to go downstairs to my workshop and see a red squirrel or chipmunk sitting there.

We also have bears in Mount Vernon, and they’ve been seen on our road, but I haven’t seen one in our yard.

And then there are the birds. We have everything from beautiful warblers to eagles and ospreys. As avid birders, Linda and I are in a perfect spot. We have seen two dozen species of warblers right in our yard.

Woodchucks are very destructive to Linda’s vegetable gardens, so I shot all of them. One year we had three that were coming by regularly and I killed two but I couldn’t get the third one. We were headed out for a trip so our neighbor came down with a live trap, caught the woodchuck and transported it away.

But when we got back home a neighbor came up to tell us that he had seen a bald eagle flying up the road carrying a woodchuck, and the eagle dropped the woodchuck right in our yard and it ran off. Great, I thought, now eagles are delivering the woodchucks to us.

And just so you know, I wouldn’t live anywhere but right here in Mount Vernon, surrounded by wild critters!


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.